A half-court buzzer-beater from Markelle Fultz that fell about an inch shy of the mark concluded Washington’s best chance Thursday night to end a seven-game losing streak. Arizona State prevailed 83-81 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion because the Huskies could not capitalize on a pair of blunders by Sun Devils guard Tra Holder in the closing seconds.
With :15 remaining and the Huskies trailing by three, Fultz had a layup miss off the iron and fall into Holder’s hands. Freshman guard Carlos Johnson wrapped Holder in a bear hug, committing his fifth foul and the team’s ninth of the half.
As Johnson released Holder, the Sun Devils guard shoved Johnson in the chest, upset with the foul. While fans jeered and the players were separated, the referees deliberated.
The verdict took two minutes: A flagrant-one for Johnson and a dead-ball contact foul for Holder. Holder would shoot two for Arizona State (13-14, 6-8 Pac-12), and Matisse Thybulle would return the favor for Washington (9-17, 2-12).
Each sank both shots, putting ASU up 82-79. But since Johnson’s foul occurred during play, and Holder’s happened on a dead ball, Washington took possession in Arizona State’s end with 10 seconds to play. Fultz lobbed up a three-pointer that missed, but Dan Kingma converted the put-back to make it 82-81 with :02 left.
After a quick foul, Torian Graham sank his first free throw in the double-bonus. But Holder committed a second error: Encroaching on Gray’s shooting area to nullify what would have been a three-point lead.
Washington would have a chance to inbound the ball.
Kingma surveyed the floor and lobbed a high pass to Fultz. Two feet behind the mid-court stripe, he jumped, caught and fired a shot that arced on target before striking the front of rim and bouncing out.
The crowd groaned. Players’ shoulders slumped. Another setback.
Coach Lorenzo Romar was measured in his postgame words, the heartbreaking outcome no better than the previous blowouts, but he noticed something positive.
“In stretches, there’s no question we had grit,” Romar said. “I thought we had grit, but we didn’t take care of the ball. Taking care of the ball and continuing to move the ball, that’s what got us to where we had the lead. Other than the beginning of the game, I thought there was some grit.”
The Huskies committed 15 turnovers, leading to 23 points for the visitors. A number of those occurred at the beginning, when Washington failed to score a field goal for the game’s first 3:36, falling behind by 15.
A 26-9 run to end the half, however, was a hopeful sign.
Many players demonstrated improvement. Johnson, averaging five points per game, recorded his first career double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds, both career highs. Thybulle grabbed a career-best 11 rebounds, while David Crisp drove to the hoop early and often to score 13.
Fultz tied Johnson’s 19, seeing limited minutes in his first game back after missing a week with a sore knee.
Romar, who had had a courtside confrontation with Johnson in a 41-point blowout loss to UCLA on Feb. 4, praised the Centralia, IL native’s toughness.
“You continue to mentor Carlos and watch him grow,” he said. “Help him channel all that fight that he has into battling on the court. I’d rather have that than someone be passive.
“When he’s playing like that, it’s infectious. I thought it rubbed off on our team when he came in.”
The improvement wasn’t enough. Late in the game, Washington rushed shots and left defensive gaps that were exploited by driving guards. Graham finished with a game-high 29 points, including four-of-nine from three-point range, while Holder scored 21.
With No. 5 Arizona (24-3, 13-1 Pac-12) in town for the final home game of the season Saturday (5 p.m., ESPN2), there may be little cause for celebration on Senior Night. The Wildcats beat Washington 77-66 in the team’s first meeting in Tucson, and the Huskies’ lone senior, Malik Dime, is suspended indefinitely for slapping a fan at Washington’s loss to Colorado. Romar said that Dime’s situation would be decided Saturday.